If workers at your facility operate forklifts or powered industrial vehicles, you understand the importance of safety when operating a forklift. But, are employees trained on proper forklift battery storage and charging?
Forklift and powered industrial truck operators need to be properly trained to operate and inspect their equipment. They also need to be taught forklift battery charging station safety requirements to help avoid injuries.
Like many work tasks, charging forklift batteries can create more than one hazard. And like many routine tasks, it can be easy to overlook or underestimate hazards. That’s why forklift safety training needs to be specific. It should also include information on the following hazards:
1. The Dangers of Moving Forklift Batteries
Lead acid batteries are very heavy. Often, they cannot be moved or lifted into a charging station without some type of mechanical assistance. Any equipment used to move batteries should facilitate easy movement without the need for manual lifting or awkward body movements. Review proper lifting techniques as well as any limits on the amount of weight that should be lifted by one person.
2. Potential for Crush and Caught-Between Injuries
If the devices used to move batteries do not have fail-safes or other guards to prevent a battery from falling or moving uncontrollably, employees may be injured if the battery falls. Steel-toed work shoes and procedures that require employees to be out of the path of a battery can help to avoid crush and caught-between injuries.
3. Battery Charging Can Cause Flammable Gas
People ask us frequently: “Are vapors from charging batteries flammable?”
First, it’s important to know that hydrogen gas is generated when batteries are being charged. Therefore, if the battery charging area is not well-ventilated, the accumulation of hydrogen gas can present an explosion hazard. In addition to providing ventilation and keeping battery charging areas clean and free of open flames or anything that could create a spark, hydrogen gas monitors can help ensure that flammable gasses don’t reach unsafe levels.
Recommended reading: Battery Storage and Charging Area Inspection Checklist
4. Forklift Batteries Contain Corrosive Electrolytes
Another question we often hear is: “Which chemical hazards should I be concerned with when dealing with forklift batteries?”
The electrolyte in batteries contains sulfuric acid, which is corrosive and can cause chemical burns if it splashes out of refillable batteries. Face shields, splash goggles, gloves and aprons can help minimize injuries, especially when water is being added after a battery has been charged. Eyewash stations or drench showers can also help quickly remove electrolyte and prevent injuries from becoming more serious.
Routine procedures should also include removing electrolyte and dirt from battery casings. Some facilities switch to sealed batteries to help minimize the chance of anyone coming in contact with electrolytes and to reduce battery cleaning time.
5. Spilled Electrolyte Can Cause Burns or Slips and Falls
Spilled electrolyte can cause chemical burns and is a slip and fall hazard. Keeping spill kits in battery rooms and charging areas facilitates fast response so that spills can be absorbed and neutralized quickly. Employees should know how to use the personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as any neutralizers, tools or equipment in the kits. Post instructions as a reminder of the steps to take when cleaning up spilled battery acid.
6. Batteries Hold an Electric Charge
Like all batteries, lead acid batteries hold an electrical charge and have the potential to arc. A rule of thumb is that batteries should be charged when they reach about 30 percent of their capacity with charging cables that are in good condition. Employees should remove any metal jewelry that could conduct electricity and be aware of any other metals in the area that may increase the risk of explosion.
Batteries come in many shapes and varieties. Although these hazards are fairly common for all types of lead acid batteries, there may be additional or other unique hazards that are specific to the types of batteries being utilized. Forklift and powered industrial truck manufacturers often provide training and information at little or no cost to help employees and supervisors operate and maintain their equipment safely and effectively. Be sure to take advantage of this and keep workers trained on the proper storage and charging of forklift batteries to help keep employees safe, meet regulations and avoid fines.